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June 13, 2004

Learning to 'speak'

From: Jacksonville Daily News - Jacksonville,NC,USA - Jun 13, 2004

June 13,2004

Her first word was "No."

Two-year-old Makayla Scott didn't actually say "no," but rather she pressed two of her tiny little fingers together with her thumb and signed the word.

Makayla was born deaf.

And since the day her parents learned that their infant would never hear, they began learning sign language together. Makayla's mother, Jennifer Scott, got the basics at a continuing education class at Coastal Carolina Community College, and now has a private teacher. She said teaching her daughter sign language is the easy part; finding social support for a deaf child locally is tough.

"There's not a lot in Jacksonville," said the Trinidad native who now calls Onslow County home.

Shalon Turner, the American Sign Language instructor at Coastal, understands the problem and is trying to help Makayla and her family find other folks to "talk" to.

A few weeks ago, Shalon took her classroom out into the real world for what she called a "Silent Dinner." Students come together to dine out and, during the meal, only signing is permitted.

It's good practice for students and a social night for the deaf or hearing impaired. "I encourage people who are learning sign language to come out and join us," she said. "We want to reach the deaf community and let them know they can be a part of something."

The Silent Dinners will usually be the first of every month, and either at an agreed upon restaurant or at someone's home.

Last Tuesday's Silent Dinner was held at the Golden Corral, and while there was nothing quiet about the folks around them in the bustling restaurant, the students got to practice their new language in a casual setting.

"If you don't use it, you lose it," said student, Beverly Black.

Beverly is a graduate of Shalon's first two classes, beginners and intermediate, and is now currently enrolled in Shalon's conversational class.

Beverly chose to learn sign language to enhance her job at the Onslow County Department of Social Services (DSS).

"There's nobody at DSS now who can sign except for me," she said. "I'm still stumbling with it, but I can at least communicate enough to get someone an appointment and make them feel at ease."

Beverly said anybody is welcome to join the Silent Dinners.

"Whether you're deaf or hearing impaired or a beginner in sign language, join us. We want to let the deaf community know that there are hearing people who are learning to communicate with them," she said.

Sign language, or what Shalon calls "flying hands," tends to attract attention in public.

"People stare at you when you're signing," Jennifer said. "And it's so frustrating. When I tell people my daughter's deaf, they start yelling at her like she's going to hear them or something. That makes me mad."

Shalon said many deaf people don't consider being deaf a disability. "They think of it as part of their identity," she said.

Jennifer said Makayla's deafness has only brought the two closer. "It makes us do a whole lot more together," she said. "If she could hear, I could just say go watch TV or something, but we have a routine. We have dinner, we sit and learn sign language, and we interact more."

And how does she teach her sign language as a first language?

"You associate the signs with whatever she's doing," Jennifer said. "But she has to experience something first before she knows."

That becomes a challenge with things like stoves and fire. Jennifer said Makayla knows the word "hot" from feeling the heat from outside the oven door.

Other than being deaf, Jennifer said Makayla is just like any other child.

And are they going through the "terrible 2s?"

"Yes!" Jennifer said, emphatically. "Now that she knows sign language, when she doesn't want to do something, she'll turn away and close her eyes."

Jennifer said Makayla is very familiar with the words "no," "stop" and "time out."

"She also just knows what I mean by the look on my face," she said.

While Jennifer's husband is serving as a Marine drill instructor at Parris Island, S.C., Jennifer gets help from her friend, and Makayla's godmother, Wanda Yeates.

Wanda, also a CCCC sign language student, said she and Jennifer have made a pact to learn 10 words a week.

Wanda said she started signing because of her uncle, who became deaf later in life. "He stopped talking to the family because no one would take the time to learn his language," she said.

Wanda signed up for the CCCC class and said, "I fell in love with it the day I walked in the door."

Another student, Meredith Clark, enrolled because she works with special needs children in a home-based community services program. She also has two natural children and four adopted kids with special needs.

Meredith agreed with Shalon who said deaf people can do anything hearing people can do. "Any person who doesn't let being deaf stop them from living is outstanding," Shalon said.

And could a deaf person be reporter?

"Sure, with an interpreter," Shalon said.

Meredith then asked, with an implied "touché!" "And what if a reporter had to interview a deaf person?"

The Silent Dinner club is motivated by compassion for the deaf, and each member has their own story of love for a deaf person and a love of signing -- although Beverly jokingly noted that her husband, Ben, was just tagging along.

"He was hungry," she said.

For information about the Silent Dinners, contact Shalon Turner at 455-6401 or at compelledbylove@ For more information on American Sign Language classes, contact Coastal Carolina Community College.

© 2004 by Freedom ENC Communications. All rights reserved.